The City Ski Challenge is where City of London types get competitive on the slopes. Adam Bloodworth joined the celebrations
“The challenge is surviving the Après,” one attendee confessed. “It’s as competitive as the skiing.” It was 9.30 in the morning and we were glancing at a formidable black run. The DJ was banging out house music and there was a pallet of beers being chilled by handfuls of the exact same stuff the competitors were shredding beneath their feet.
We were in Switzerland at the resort of Crans Montana for the City Ski Challenge, the annual corporate knees-up where two things are taken seriously: skiing and drinking. Around one hundred and fifty people travelled from the City of London and the wider capital and the goal? To do the competitive ski run in under one minute, proving that you’re not only a legend at the office but a genius on the slopes.
“Everyone’s a winner,” says Amin Momen, founder of the event, diplomatically. But entrants don’t necessarily agree. “It’s a proper ski race,” says Silvan Marxer, winner of this year’s event. “During the race you get serious.”
Racers go one at a time, hurtling past checkpoints on the steep incline. Graham Bell, former Olympic skier and Ski Sunday presenter, comes down first. Soon follows the BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner in a sit ski; the famous journalist was partially paralysed after he was injured by al-Qaida gunmen in Saudi Arabia in 2004. Things quickly turn from calm to chaotic. There’s the first wipeout, then the next. One guy skis so far off the run he lands on the piste next door, before gliding down on the wrong side with a blank expression, the type of face someone pulls when they fart on the dance floor then pretend it wasn’t them.
Everyone’s watching and everyone wants to win. Someone shouts “SH*T! SH*T!” in the direction of the audience at the finish line. They mucked up a turn and although racers get two attempts, the snow is almost certainly worse the second time. Outbursts are understandable: one bad move can throw your time by a few seconds, knocking you out of the top 10, and emotions were getting high. Not for the handful who finished in under one minute, including Silvan from insurers Howden who slid past the finishing markers in 51 seconds. “I was part of making sure we won for the third time in a row,” he said.
Not long after 10am and the salopetted crowd grew tired of coffee and turned to the fizzier stuff. Who are they? As you’d expect, it’s a crowd of high earners, many of whom know each other well: racers watching from the finishing line could name a good proportion of entrants even with their full ski gear on halfway up the mountain. I heard rumours a Palmer-Tompkinson was racing and I doubt they were the only aristo-adjacents among the racers, who all scored 100 per cent in another unspoken competition that weekend: the ‘porcelain skinned, perfect teeth and expensive ski suit’ charts.
Après in Crans Montana offers partying and sophistication; we watched live drummers in Zerodix and had a very decent lunch of beef cheek at the Chetzeron restaurant, with its own rooftop pool
The handsome resort of Crans Montana is reputable for this crowd, but is undergoing a significant facelift after the US Vail Resort acquired the town’s ski area for their portfolio. The Colorado ski destination already owns Andermatt and 15 other international snow sports destinations and say they will “bring new energy, positively impacting the entire economic structure of the region of Crans Montana.” Vail is to run the ski lifts, schools, mountain operations and some restaurants.
Fifty metres from bottom of the black run where sweating city folk slogged past the finishing line lies the chalet formerly owned by James Bond actor Roger Moore. Moore spent the majority of his final 20 years in Crans Montana and died in a nearby hospital. “You’d see him in the supermarkets, on the slopes, right until the end,” one local said. Moore typifies the reputation of Crans Montana as a retirement hideaway for the well-heeled, but overall it is a smaller player than Swiss resorts like Verbier and Andermatt.
Vail will increase Crans Montana’s profile, but the town already has plenty to offer. A generous range of slopes prioritise intermediate skiers, but if you’re the sort who hits the slopes anxiously once a year you’ll also be at home, with enough blues to take, offering views of the town in the valley and beyond that, a particularly jaggedy line-up of mountains on the horizon, including Mont Blanc. Après venues on the mountain cater to partying and sophistication; we watched live drummers stand on tables in Zerodix and had a very decent lunch of beef cheek at the Chetzeron restaurant which has a pool on the roof.
Crans Montana is the sort of resort that has the glamorous shops and restaurants but doesn’t feel the need to shout about it. They’re just here and you can take them or leave them. You can just as easily have a lowkey time: I stayed at the Hotel La Prairie, which has been family run for generations and has that style of wood panelling throughout the restaurant and rooms that you instantly associate with a cosy mountain ski lodge. A ritzy new Six Senses with ski in, ski out facilities signals the future.
The Championships are also something of a throwback. City of London insiders tell me expensive away days are becoming a thing of the past: the optics just don’t look great. Apparently even at Square Mile dinners, bottles of champagne are becoming taboo as bankers are encouraged not to exploit their privileges in public forums. Bore off, I say: if I earned their money I’d certainly spend it on Veuve Clicquot, like the Howden lot did at their winning table at the Awards Dinner on the Saturday night, where ‘Horny’ DJ Mousse T played until the early hours.
But founder Amin is understandably modernising the event to keep it in line with today’s sensitivities. “Our aim is continuing the evolution to a more inclusive and diverse range of people and companies attending,” he says. The event changed its name from City Ski Championships to City Ski Challenge this year to “tone down the elite connotations.” Prizes included one for the best wipe out. “If you can’t ski you need to do something else to win so that’s what I did,” said Fred, winner. Inspiring stuff.
It was 3am at the Awards Dinner and I had my arms thrown around an insurance worker. Looking into each others’ eyes, we shouted “I’m horny, I’m horny horny horny!” as the DJ dropped his most famous track. Amin is right: skiing should be more inclusive, but at that moment, as a newcomer, I felt pretty held.
The City Ski Challenge returns to Crans Montana between 13-16 March 2025. For information and to book go to cityskichampionships.com; Adam used Blacklane chauffeur service to get from Geneva Airport to Crans Montana